Goodbye to Grommet
Late last month, my Grommet co-founder Joanne Domeniconi and I were fired. Our majority shareholder Ace Hardware made the call, as is their right. It happens when visions for a company diverge.
Joanne and I are sad to abandon our Citizen Commerce™ mission and not see Grommet through to becoming a household name. But we feel nothing but a great deal of pride when we reflect on the hundreds of careers we shaped, the more than 3,000 small businesses we accelerated, and the thousands of jobs we created. We grew to a meaningful scale: where we could legitimately move markets and create demand for previously unheard-of products and even create new product categories. No one had heard of brands like SodaStream, Fitbit, OtterBox, PopSockets, S’well, Bombas, SimpliSafe and Mrs. Meyers when we embraced and launched them.
Upon hearing the news one Grommet maker wrote, “I have said it so many times it must sound like a broken record, but what you created was pure magic!” For a small business with an innovative product, breaking through in a crowded consumer world is excruciatingly difficult. Each Grommet we launched benefited handsomely from our reputation, credibility, and gaining access to our 4M followers. I always saw being chosen as a Grommet as cutting two years of struggle out of their path. Many awesome companies would have died on the vine if it were not for Grommet.
We employed hundreds of the best and brightest. One of the current team members said, “The Grommet has made an impression on me in many ways in the three years since I joined. I’ve worked for a number of small companies now, and while most of their founders have had “hustle” to spare, I have not encountered anyone else with your commitment to values. I did not choose a career path which automatically involves helping others (doctor, nonprofit, etc.), so it has been a comfort to work for someone who steers the ship with moral conviction.”
Lynda Applegate, a Harvard Business School professor, wrote a popular case on The Grommet. Out of the thousands of potential case study subjects at her disposal she chose Grommet because she said we were the kind of business that could uniquely thrive in a modern economy—with a groundbreaking approach to creating value for multiple parties. Here’s a small slice of what that means to me: I believe that each person in a company is sacred and capable of leadership. When individuals are truly engaged toward a common purpose, powerful gains can be delivered for customers, suppliers, society, and the planet. It is then that a great business–measured in revenue and profits–can also be a great company. I was not interested in one without the other. This is what Lynda recognized.
I also hope our Grommet alums will be brave on the innovation front. As one of our investors John Landry told me, “If you aren’t the lead dog you are just sniffing someone else’s butt.” We originated the use of video in e-commerce. We were the first company to assign societal/personal values to the products we sold. While corporations today are scrambling to show they “care” about products from minority or queer or veteran entrepreneurs, or from social enterprises, or about American made sourcing—moves that I wholeheartedly applaud—I take pride that we sourced all of our products according to those kind of values from Day One.
It seems so basic, but we built a company whose people and products you could trust implicitly. If retail were not a catastrophic race to the bottom, “trustworthiness” would not be a distinctive competitive asset–but it was at The Grommet. And it was measurable. While most e-commerce companies find that dissatisfied customers return 15-25% of what is bought, our customers only returned 3% of Grommets. And these are products from totally unknown small businesses. 3%!! This is because we curated carefully and only launched products worth buying, from people worth supporting.
As a CEO, I am proud that we defied the odds and built a large-scale business, and shepherded it successfully through two financial crises and a global pandemic. We also defied the odds in attracting visionary angel investors like Peter Lynch and Jill Preotle–in a world where women founders get 2.7% of the funding from venture capitalists. We navigated not just one, but two, strategic investors over seven years. A public company CFO friend told me after the first investment (from the wonderful Rakuten) “I have bought many companies. It never works for the founders. You won’t last six months.” Ha! Joanne and I are not quitters. And we not only defied the odds in scaling the business, but also remained friends and partners throughout. We came into the venture together and there is poetry in the fact that we left Grommet the same way. Joanne and I were always a package deal.
I know this is kind of sappy, but I will think back at Grommet under our leadership as a form of “Camelot” for our team, our Makers and ourselves. My greatest hope is that Grommet alums will go on to use the lessons of how a business can both do good and do well. I know Grommet team members will be contributory to–and demanding of–their future employers when it comes to both ethical and executional standards. We all certainly learned a valuable lesson that one cannot simultaneously grow and harvest the same company–you have to pick a lane.
Sidebar: for some reason beyond my understanding, our amazing VP of Operations Jason McCarthy was also terminated. The company was on a fantastic 2020 trajectory with revenues up 50% over plan in May and 25% for the year. Jason was very, very central to that success—our business was extremely operationally intense. Jason is a dynamic leader whose teams will follow him anywhere. He was my go-to person for many things from brainstorming new initiatives to putting models and plans to an analytical or real-world test. At Grommet he had the broadest portfolio of responsibilities among all my reports, including Logistics, Inventory Planning, Account Management, Growth Services and Customer Support. He also founded and built our Wholesale business. Beyond all that he is a culture builder who earned deep respect and loyalty during his seven year+ tenure at Grommet, including mine of course. I will be very happy to introduce him to worthy employers and startup teams.
At the end of the day (and our run), while the future course of Grommet will not include its founders’ drive and hustle, or our moral and spiritual guidance, we are happy to have shown the way for individuals and companies to support small businesses, to celebrate the work of underrepresented entrepreneurs, to seek out quality products, and to honor trustworthy people. Grommet was the culmination of my life’s work—and Joanne’s. We share a deep satisfaction and priceless legacy with the many talented and committed individuals who made it all happen. I have no regrets. This is the simplest definition of success that I know.
July 20 addendum:
Leigh Buchanan of Inc. Magazine saw this post and called me up. She subsequently wrote this insightful and original reflection about The Grommet and our departures. “A Bittersweet Ending for the Maker Community’s Biggest Supporters.” It is priceless to me. Leigh understands what we built (because she did her homework over the years, including visiting the office) and she understands what the small business economy lost, because of her work at Inc.
Here’s a little trip down memory lane.
54 Responses to “Goodbye to Grommet”
Everything about you and what you’ve built is inspiring.
“My greatest hope is that Grommet alums will go on to use the lessons of how a business can both do good and do well.“
And thank you for taking the time to meet with me several years back when I was trying to better define what matters most to me. And I’d still like to treat you to that JP Lick’s ice cream cone when you get a breather.
My very best regard and well wishes.
The pleasure was all mine and I am so happy to know you. Ice cream will sound good when my feet are firmly planted again and Covid passes.
Jules, I’m sad but, knowing you, I’m certain all will turn out for the best.
Loved all the photos and comments that brought back so many memories for me also the videos, the old Grommet home in Lexington and the amazement that you could do so much in that small space, especially during the holiday season when I usually visited. Grommet will always be with me as I looked around my house and the wonderful Grommet purchases I made. (I think the silicone measuring cups are my favorites.)
Please give my very best to Joanne.
Sorry I can’t be with you to give you a big hug even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Thank you Nancy. I am so glad you got to be witness to that incredible factory of goodness we created in Lexington. It was a crazy hard but magical era of the business. I loved them all, of course, but no one can understand how we did so much with so little without having actually paid attention and visiting.
Sad! Good luck!
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Thank you Nan.
Jules, so in awe of you and what you’ve done. Feel like I had a front row seat for a little while. What’s next?
Dom, You indeed were there at the tadpole stage. I always appreciated that. What’s next is just an indolent summer. But you know we will be back in the fray on our own terms after some needed rest and family time.
Jules, We are shocked and profoundly saddened by this news. Grommet was at Negg’s side from the beginning. We often credit The Grommet giving us the tools to succeed. Such a great group you brought together. Bonnie and I are both anxiously waiting to hear, “What’s Next” for you and Joanne. All the best,
Bonnie and Sheila
Sheila and Bonnie, You know your product and story were always among my faves. But it was mostly because you SHOWED UP…you came to our offices and the shows and my frigging book launch event with WBUR. And you showed us a model of fierce competitiveness and heart and innovation that made it a joy to keep snowplowing for you in all the ways we could. For the summer, the story is just R and R…12 years overdue!
Sad to learn this, but you all are so creative and spiritual, you will continue to make the world a better place! Thank you for all you did, do and will do! I thank you for inspiring my classes at BU and for forging lives of pleasure for so many. I applaud you all!
Inspiring students is an honor Darby. To some extent we just have to wait for the old guard “command and control” leaders to go out to pasture before they wreck the world even more, but we have to make sure that the next generation has a better template to follow. Thanks for doing that.
I repeat here what I said to you when you first gave me the news: CONGRATULATIONS! The two of you have worked so hard. And who have helped so many people, not only the 3000 Makers but all the employees that you hired and trained and then “graduated” as alumni.
I loved seeing the 2011 team picture. Yes, it was a VERY difficult year, but all I remember is how that team overcame hurdle after hurdle and achieved success.
Loved the John Landry comment!!
As for Jason McCarthy, I remember Jason from when you hired him. He was a special person from the very beginning. An employer (or startup team) would be lucky to have him join their team.
Loved, loved, loved all the “through the years” pictures. It’s so great to remember the team members.
Finally, it was great to be (along with our three sons) one of your “biggest investors.” It has been great.
Des, you did two long “volunteer” stints at Grommet and while I don’t think anyone but a family member would ever do that, your 80 hours a week for months and months were above and beyond. Grommet would probably not have made it without you, pure and simple.
Jules, The Grommet will forever be my absolute favorite place to have worked and I have missed all of you so much. I pulled my own goodbye email out of the archives from 2016 and part of it is still so fitting:
“To mirror what Jules said at team meeting, there are a handful of great people that are leaving and have left, and they are irreplaceable. But each of these people are leaving behind a few more bricks in the foundation so that the current team and next round of hires have a stronger base to make The Grommet an even more amazing place to work. ”
I wish you, Joanne, and Jason (I second every single thing you said about him, and more!) the absolute best of luck in your next adventure and I can’t wait to see what life has in store for you.
This comment made my night because you affirmed that we achieved our highest goal in being your favorite employer. I don’t think you do all the incredible things we did if that is not the case for at least the majority of employees. Sometimes you have to leave to have that perspective, especially if you haven’t worked many places. But you did bring a wider POV to Grommet so your comments meant so much to me. Thanks for also endorsing what I said about Jason…I am committed to making sure that he lands in a very high quality environment.
Dear Jules and Joanne
Very sorry to hear of this minor set back in the lives of two of the most engaged, thoughtful, innovative, dynamic, loyal and committed women that have ever trained the buying public to consider their purchases as an extension of their better selves.
You have left a legacy of people who will be looking to support locally the innovative entrepreneurs and designers that your company has introduced and mentored.
There’s no doubt whatever comes next will be a thoughtful extension Or reward for the years of toil!
Jill, I love the way you said this: “trained the buying public to consider their purchases as an extension of their better selves” It’s ironic that the world is only just now really catching up to this need. I know what we did is still needed. It is very unique to be a founder…there is a marked difference in the efficiency and clarity and courage of founder-led organizations versus others. After some SERIOUS hiking with you sister, maybe the next business mountain will become evident. For now, it is all about R and R to recover from 12 years of non stop founder hustle.
Wow! Didn’t think I’d see the day. Sorry to hear things had to end this way, Jules and Joanne.
Hopefully it provides some solace to know that your collective efforts, ethos, and culture has made an indelible mark on Grommeteers, along with Makers, the market, and the universe (as you encouraged on my going away Perplexus). As you suggested in the post, the experience with The Grommet has fortified my own focus on values and living with intentionality.
Thank you again for all that you’ve done, kudos for what you’ve accomplished, and truly, I wish you all the best moving forward!
Also, the photos were great 🙂
Aaron, you were already a poster child for “living with intentionality” when we met, butI am so glad that we helped you double down on that course. It’s hard to know what you have (or are missing) early in your career and we tried hard to raise the bar for all so that you could go out and be purpose drive in every organization you touch. I am sure you are doing that every day Aaron.
An amazing story Jules. You and your team defied the odds! Congrats to you and Joanne on your incredible success. Few who start companies end up achieving a fraction of what you did. You’ve made the world a better place. Thank you! Paul DiGi
Paul, thanks so much. You had so many awesome leadership experiences so I really appreciate this message.
I am deeply saddened by this. I always felt as part of your family. You were the first to give me the opportunity to be on a selling platform three years ago. To this day, I am always extremely thankful and feel you are responsible for propelling my business forward. I look forward to hearing about your next journey. Hopefully there will be an opportunity for My Two Ladies to work with you again.
Alexis, We appreciated the trust you place in us in sharing My Two Ladies with our company and supporters. It means SO much to me to read that you felt part of our family. Joanne always had more direct contact with makers, while I snowplowed for the rest of the business. But whenever I heard and hear things like this from one of our “family” it gave me tremendous energy to keep snowplowing. Thank you.
What you did with The Grommet was truly amazing. Your accomplishments are too numerous to count. I’m sad to see you go and wish you all the best in your future endeavors. -Julie R. (KSC)
Thank you so much Julie. You are a gem and a true friend.
A fantastic run Jules – as Diane Hessan sez ‘you made a dent in the universe’ and that has made all the difference. Thank you for letting us be along for the ride.
Amy, you were one of the clutch enablers of the ride. Springboard taking a chance on us before we even launched meant the world to me. It opened up the world for me! The sky was falling on the day of our event but the response from investors was still really energizing. Jill Preotle was the best investor ever and I met her through you. Gerry Laybourne got on the Grommet train. I met so many fab entrepreneurs. Alan Patricof is still a friend. Lauren Flanagan, Susan Strausberg, Janet Kraus, Sharon Kan, Kay Koplowitz, Candace Fleming, Gail Goodman, Julie Wainwright, and your wonderful team. I could go on but then I will forget someone so I’d better stop there. THANK YOU.
You built something amazing and empowered so many makers and entrepreneurs, and inspired us all along the way! Thank you!
Thanks so much Jennifer. You know of what you speak!
See if you can get a copy of The Intern (2015) stariing Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway. Watch the scene from 1:48:00 to about 1:51:00 where de Niro’s character [Ben] is talking to Anne Hathaway’s character [spooky–named Jules]. I think you might find it resonates slightly.
Best wishes from Australia.
Michael, I loved that film. That one scene when she is repacking an order. I could relate to so much about her character and after I saw it I so wanted a Ben in my life. Being a CEO is about as lonely a job as there is. I accepted that and am well-suited for the demands, but that BEN! I will watch it again tonight and look for what you mention. Curious!
My family and I watched the film last night. We all commented on how we’d forgotten how tight a production it is. And yes, the slice you highlighted is CEO gold. BEST part of the whole relationship between Ben and Jules is what he saw in her at moments like that.
[…] Goodbye to Grommet (julespieri.com) […]
Jules, I will always be grateful for The Grommet’s support of Let Them Eat Candles. Thank you for your guidance, enthusiasm, and the community you and Joanne built. Good luck with whatever’s next.
Thanks so much for trusting us with your precious product Loree. I just spoke to Ryan today, BTW! Hope you two are in touch.
Jules–Thank you for your story. It illuminates on some of the changes we have seen recently. Our company Life Elements, launched on the Grommet in January 2016 with a single product (The Healing Honey Stick). And you were right…Our launch on The Grommet and the subsequent inclusion in your catalog gave us an incredible platform that helped to springboard our entire business into legitimacy. Every single person we dealt with on your team was enthusiastic, professional and genuinely interested in our success. You and your team built an incredible brand and we thank you for your support of small business and have not doubt that you will continue to make a positive and transformational difference in other peoples’ lives. Take care,
Curt & Martha Van Inwegen
Curt and Martha, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with The Grommet. It was our honor to work hard for Life Elements and to bring you to our community. We worked super hard to build the company the old-fashioned way: brick by brick and by doing right by people. I would have never understood what that is like when I worked for large corporations because big enterprises usually get distanced from their original values. Only a fellow founder can understand the incredible blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to create what you experienced from Grommet. Respect.
I’ve never met you but I’ve been a Grommet fan for many years, anticipated every new product and enjoyed reading your posts, especially Japan, the blizzard in Boston and your son. am simply in awe of your talents. Giving small business owners access to a global market was brilliant!
While I am so sad that you will no longer be steering Grommet I know there’s another venture just waiting for you!
Thank you! Good luck! Stay well! Kathleen
Hi Kathleen, when you write a blog like this it is a vulnerable, hopeful, and somewhat unpredictable venture. I always hoped there were readers like you who did not mind my complete lack of focus and shared my sheer joy of sharing observations about the world. Thank you so much for showing up to tell me that there is at least one soulmate of mine out there!
Jules – Somehow I missed this news until I saw your update on your amazing road trip on LinkedIn. You created something incredibly special with Grommet — and it was a joy and honor for me to be part of that journey is some small way. Stay proud! I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure.
Meg, This message means a lot, coming from you as you saw how the sausage was made. Thank you for your contributions!
[…] Yet the tie-up may have been The Grommet’s downfall, as “Ace’s co-op structure meant having to sell each store owner individually on a Grommet program,” according to the LinkedIn post from Pieri, who maintained a stake in the marketplace and remained in charge when it was sold but announced in 2020 that she left at Ace’s behest. […]
I told EVERYONE I knew about Grommet when I first found you YEARS ago. I loved the videos of the products SO much! It really helped me decide if the product was a good fit. (Now videos are everywhere) I bought many gifts for loved ones over the years. Jeez… Grommet – no one can take away your innovative success. All the best to you all in the future. You rock!
Thanks so much for the kind words. It’s pretty rare that anyone realized we invented the idea of using video in e-commerce. Well maybe not INVENTED, but other than Zappos no one else was doing it at the time (2008.) I have to admit we created some early TERRIBLE videos but we learned as we went and I am proud of all of them.
You and your team are amazing..!!!!
I want to know what is your next venture..
I had no idea that so many ventures were from you. I loved your company because you could get one of a kind gifts, and they were really cool.
You have worked very hard….come to the wine country for R and R…Tell me the next chapter..!
The best to you and the Team.. Email me
Trisha, What kind words followed by a kind invitation. I really appreciate it, and thank you for the support over the years. Wine country R and R sounds dreamy.
I am so disappointed to learn that The Grommet will no longer be available to me!! I just learned that it was going out of business when I went online to order more Guardian Bells. I truly enjoyed (and others I gifted) EVERY ITEM I purchased! You will be sorely missed me…and many others!
Imagine how all those small businesses you supported are feeling…losing you and and so many good customers. It was a very unique two-way street to match curious people with worthy companies.
I ordered items from the liquidation sales and I have not received my purchases. How are customer purchases being handled?
I have followed the Grommets for many years.
It’s sad to see it go.
Ses, sad. Since I left two years ago I don;’ have any operational knowledge of the current shipments, but I did see that the website says that shipments are very slow these days. Sorry I don’t know more than that. I do know that the fulfullment operation is independent and ongoing so I have a lot of trust in that warehouse and its commitments.
So disappointed. It cannot be the same after you guys left, the sentiment, the drive, the goals are so changed. I really appreciate your efforts, as I found the greatest gifts for my quirky nerd daughter, my nerdy self and some really practical, sensible gifts for others. I thank you and hope that you will venture out to a new, similar endeavor so (selfishly) we can benefit from your appealing talents. Happy trails.
Thank you for supporting all of those terrific small businesses Nancy. It’s going to be harder to find them in one place but check out ThingTesting: they are doing a good job finding emerging brands. Full disclosure, I am an investor in the company.
Nancy, Thanks for all the support you gave all those terrific small businesses. Please keep trying to find and buy from them (directly, never on Amazon.) Check out ThingTesting: if Grommet had a baby it would be that business.